A laminectomy is a surgical procedure in which the lamina — a thin layer of bone on every vertebra that protects the spinal canal — is removed either in part or in whole. This procedure is conducted to widen the spinal canal as a way to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord and/or nerve roots.
Why would a laminectomy be necessary? Over time, the spinal anatomy begins to deteriorate. Bulging intervertebral discs, inflamed soft tissue, and bone spurs can cause a condition called stenosis, wherein the spinal canal or vertebral foramina (nerve root passageways) become narrowed and constrict the nerve infrastructure in the spine. By removing the lamina, the nerves may be decompressed and given more space, and the patient’s painful symptoms should subside.
The lamina is a layer of bone, also known as the vertebral arch, that wraps around the spinal canal and provides protection. The spinal canal refers to the narrow passageway in the vertebrae that protects the spinal cord and allows it to travel through the neck and back. In a healthy spine, the spinal cord begins at the base of the brain and extends down the back to the lumbar spine (in the lower back) before separating into a horsetailed-shaped bundle known as the “cauda equine” nerves.
A laminectomy is the surgical removal of the lamina at one or more levels of the spine. Open spine surgery is extremely invasive and is completed in a hospital setting by a team of orthopedic surgeons. During a typical open laminectomy:
- The surgeon will make an initial 3- to 4-inch longitudinal midline incision in the back.
- After the incision, the surgeon will cut through the soft tissue and detach multiple muscles to reach the vertebral lamina.
- With the bone exposed, the surgeon will remove the lamina — either in whole or in part.
- Muscles and ligaments that have been disrupted are sewn back together along with the investing fascial layer.
- The incision is closed with stitches or staples.
Some patients find this procedure preferable to other types of open spine surgeries because it can often be completed without requiring vertebral fusion or bone grafts. However, as with any major surgery, a laminectomy requires several days of overnight hospitalization. A significant recovery period is required for the muscles and ligaments to heal, compared with more minimally invasive treatments.
If you are experiencing prolonged back pain and you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis or another degenerative spine condition, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our safe and effective, minimally invasive, endoscopic procedures.